I discovered a mile-long, abandoned rail line running through the Erie Cut, an excavated corridor in the heart of Jersey City. The cut, a significant technological feat of the time, operated from 1910 to 1959. Since then, it’s fallen into ruin. Barely visible from street level, it’s now overgrown with tall weeds and hosts several animal species. It runs beneath the city like a parallel, forgotten world—or a miniature oasis.

I will construct and maintain a network of shrines dedicated to this pocket of urban nature and the railroad infrastructure of Jersey City. I will use materials found on-site to build shrines formally and conceptually inspired by Japanese Shinto architecture. My process will be one of paying consistent attention over time, of growth and accumulation through repeated visits. I will ultimately lead public tours (pilgrimages), create a documentary video, and keep a project blog.

In many cultures, shrines are traditionally dedicated to natural phenomena. However, few landscapes are completely natural anymore. My shrines will establish symbolic and ritualistic connections between tour participants, the natural environment, and the built environment. They will act as focal points in the landscape.

This project will function as a meditation on place; focusing on the overlay of ecology, history, and technology onto current land use. The video will chronicle my process, showing how the shrines develop and grow over time. To convey the unique energy of the site in the video, I will push the audio quality so it carries equal weight to the imagery. The site’s rich soundscape includes birds calls, insects, and rustling vegetation; cars and sirens from the city above; the rumbling of nearby trains; water dripping, cave-like, and echoing under bridges.

In 2008, I realized a similar project in New Brunswick, NJ, in which I built shrines dedicated to the local drainage system (an artificial extension of natural waterways). I lead tours and maintained a website. With this new project, I’ll develop my relationship to the site over a longer period of time, construct more elaborate shrines, and reach a larger audience via the documentary.

Just submitted this to the Graham Foundation. Cross your fingers!

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